Changing the system

Changing the system

THE RETURN of a certain cleric from Canada and his stinging critique of the prevailing political system in Pakistan has opened, if nothing else, a much needed debate: Do we need to change the system we now have in place?

But before we get to this question let us look at what Tahirul Qadri is saying and his suggested method of reform. He says that the people who now sit in our assemblies are illiterate thieves and thugs whose sole interest is to loot and plunder. They do not have the ability or indeed the desire to run the country and lead it on a path to progress. His suggested remedy is to lead millions of people to Islamabad and barricade parliament. It does not seem to be clear, perhaps even to Qadri himself, what happens after that.

Qadri speaks the truth. But truth can be employed in the service of falsehood. That the system in Pakistan needs changing is indisputable. The ‘Whitehall’ model has failed to deliver. Elections routinely bring into parliament the incompetent, insincere and corrupt. They come for the spoils. As ministers, they loot from the exchequer in the form of kickbacks and bribes. As members of parliament, they loot from public works funds allocated for their constituencies. Any solution must remove this monetary incentive.

What would possibly go some way toward achieving this goal is a presidential system — somewhat like the American system: The President should be directly elected by the public. This would ensure that anyone rising to the office of President of Pakistan would have broad public support. And the tragedy of today — a man widely reviled by the public as our President — would never occur again.

The directly elected president would nominate a cabinet of professionals choosing from the best people in the country. Ministries are large immensely complex organisations. Managing them is well beyond the severely limited competence of our present politicians.Another important element needed for the new system to work is to take away development funds from assembly members. These funds would be allocated directly to local bodies or concerned organisations.

Assembly members would now be tasked only with legislation, reviewing and approving government and agency budgets, and vetting the president’s nominees for the cabinet. Since they would no longer be ministers, or be allocated development funds the incentive for monetary gain will be removed. And hence only people who are competent and committed to serve the country will seek election to assemblies. The crooks will no longer be interested.

One final element needs to be put in place for this new system to be complete: Elections to assemblies must be on the basis of proportional representation. The current winner-takes-all or first-past-the-post system is grossly unfair. Consider as an example a constituency in which one candidate gets 51 per cent of the vote and another 49 per cent. In the winner-takes-all system only the winner will go to the assembly. Fifty one per cent of voters will get representation and 49 per cent will have no voice.

In the proportional representation system no vote is ignored. Prior to the election, all political parties submit a prioritised list of candidates from all constituencies. The public votes for candidates from their constituencies. But now votes in all constituencies are added up by party. So if one party wins 51 per cent of the total popular vote, and the other 49 per cent, then if there are 100 constituencies — the first 51 candidates on Party 1’s list go to the assembly. And the first 49 candidates on Party 2’s list go to the assembly. This way the people sitting in the assembly represent all voters not just a slim majority. – KahleejNews